Gen X and gen Z:

The alternative echo effect

Gen Zers are influencing their Gen X parents, and Gen Xers are influencing their Gen Z children — and an alternative reality is emerging

Behavior transfers between parents and their children are happening more rapidly than in the past, much like parents taught and influenced their children, children are teaching and influencing their parents. Technological improvements and economic realities increasingly intertwine generations and, as a result, are accelerating the rate of technology adoption. While this same phenomenon is occurring between baby boomers and their millennial children (profiled in our inaugural edition), the echo effect between
Gen X — ranging from their 40s to mid-50s — and Gen Z — in their teens — has unique nuances, which are playing out in unexpected ways.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the University of New South Wales Business School, examining responses from five countries, Gen X was the first cohort to experience both parents working, becoming known as the first latchkey generation, in part due to their mothers entering the workforce in increasing numbers. Many felt like they were on their own, seeking parental attention. As parents themselves now, are they overcompensating for having been on the receiving end of parents who were not around? Or do they just perceive the world to be less safe?

Their Gen Z children are spending less time away from home and more time online — consider that a 2016 research study conducted by the National Trust found that children in the UK played outdoors for an average of four hours a week, significantly less than their parents who played outdoors for 8.2 hours when they were children. This is primarily attributable to technological development, including new media of entertainment, social media and online gaming.

Back in the day, you went outside and you didn’t come home until it was dark. And now, [my children] grew up and I was afraid, even though I was in a safe area. Now, you are with your children all the time. You are always watching. So they didn’t have that freedom. I guess that’s what this internet thing is; it’s like freedom …

Aimee, 49, Frisco, Texas, US

Screen-time generation

In the Western world, Gen Xers were heavily influenced by peers, movies and television, and were one of the first generations to grow up on video games and affordable home computing consoles. Because many Gen Xers are comfortable with gaming, they let their children play games. As a result, we are seeing games and gaming, albeit in a different and increasingly alternative reality, playing such a prominent part in their children’s social lives. Through a combination of wanting to protect their children and entertain them, Gen Xers have created the conditions for Gen Z to flourish in an alternative reality world.

With today’s social media-fueled pressure to be somebody, new-age gaming is enabling our newest generation to form and live part of their lives through self-curated online identities. For Gen Z, social media is no longer about Snapchat, Instagram and the like. Take the latest gaming blockbuster Fortnite, that while being a free-to-play game, makes more money than any other games, including $300 million in ‘in-game’ sales in a recent month. Fortnite is a virtual place where Gen Zers, many of whom have not yet come of smartphone or driving age, can socialize. It’s become the place to hang out, the new playdate: Minecraft on steroids. And it’s shifted the focus of many teen wallets from physical things to virtual, such as skins (head-to-toe new virtual identity), emotes and dance moves to convey their feelings or “just style on your opponent”..

And why is this important? It’s their identity and it’s driving them to spend real money in a virtual setting, on add-ons that have nothing to do with game play, to improve their alternative selves, who they are and how they look, and at the same time fostering their interest in similar styles and fashions in the real world.

Just digital

Gen Zers are not just digital natives, they’re just digital in utter ubiquity. They have multiple devices and have to adapt rapidly as new technology breaks through. They don’t watch traditional television in nearly the same way as their predecessors. They’re savvy about media, where to get it and how to consume it on their terms. They also use multiple devices at the same time, gaming and watching multiple shows simultaneously, toggling back and forth between both devices and content.

As a result, the media landscape is getting far more complex, mixing realities across games and movies. There is a whole new generation of celebrities from Instagram and YouTube to Fortnite stars. Little Lizard and Tiny Turtle are YouTube stars who created stories inside Minecraft about a movie, and have now shifted to creating stories and games inside Fortnite. Gen Zers watch YouTube shows on one device, play games on another, and mix between big screens and little screens, living in a multi-device, multi-media, multi-fantasy world.

I don’t know if my childhood was carefree, or if our parents were a bit less worried or if they were showing it a bit less. But I worry for the next generation; this is all they’ve known. My children don’t understand that in the past there were no iPhones, that at some point there were no telephones at all …
Martine, 42, Paris, France
I think it may be more difficult for my children to copy the access to online information. Because in the future, they will be using a lot of new devices and they have to adapt to every technology.
Biwan, 31, Beijing, China

Mixed reality

We’re witnessing a combinatorial explosion of stories, worlds and devices, and social lives are getting merged and remixed. The world of movie tie-ins, such as Star Wars toys, is being completely upturned. Games become movies, movies have games inside them, YouTube remixes games and movies using Minecraft, LEGO makes Minecraft sets, toys become games and then become movies, back to games. If the medium is the message, the medium is getting remixed and altered in real time.

Is this generation fundamentally changing the face of media, entertainment, fashion? And what are the potential implications for media and entertainment companies? Fortnite gives a glimpse of the implications of a generation of youngsters brought up on Minecraft. If millennials were digital natives and wanting everything as an experience, Gen Z, supported and financed by Gen X, want the ability to curate, craft, design, and remix all media and experiences. Media needs to be cross-device, cross-story and cross-experience. The movie tie-in is quaint; the game-to-movie, back-to-game, to-YouTube, to-toy, to-fashion tie-in is the new normal. And it’s bringing new meaning to the world of mixed reality.


of parents in our survey said their children influence their purchases of electronics often or all the time


The mean age that parents in our survey gave their first child access to social media

Gen Zers also play an influential role with the household wallet. They feel they have a voice and a right to express it, and they use it in all aspects of their lives online or offline. They don’t just develop; they also share strong opinions about their likes and dislikes, and are not afraid to express them beyond the tap of a smartphone or an emoji. They’re exposed to so much more of the world, in all its guises, than any preceding generation and are more familiar at navigating the modern deluge of information than their parents, consequently making them a more conscious, if not anxious, consumer. And this connected, self-aware and cognizant consumer has influence far beyond their own nascent wallet: “My kids make my shopping list for me.”

The Gen Z perspective

At school my friends ask who is going to be on Fortnite tonight and we arrange what time we’ll play. I really like playing Fortnite on my Xbox so I can still talk to my friends after we’ve left school and it feels like they’re next to me. It’s funny when it glitches sometimes and it switches my loot up with my friend’s. I’m a character called Ragnork. He’s tier 100, so the highest tier you can get. I’m really proud I got that as I haven’t been playing it for long.
Thomas, 10, Leeds, UK
Kids like Fortnite so much because it is an enchanting game with a goal of getting a ‘Victory Royale’ [meaning last team surviving]. It is extremely hard so kids want to keep playing. There are rewards for more playing time like skins that you can put on your character. They are constantly updating the base storyline so that it is almost like a movie.
Carter, 13, Greenwich, CT, US
Fortnite is fun because I get to play with my friends and sometimes I watch videos while I am doing it because they are funny.
Davis, 10, New York, US
When my mum says we can go on electricals I go on my iPad. I like playing games like FIFA Mobile and FUT Draft (football games). I’ve got a 92-rated team on FUT Draft that I think is really good. When I’m bored of the games I switch to YouTube because there are lots of funny things to watch. I like watching ChrisMD opening [FIFA] packs because he always gets the rare cards. I wish I was allowed to have my own YouTube channel like him. I make videos of me opening packs to pretend.
Charlie, 8, Leeds, UK
I am very attracted by screens. I love video games because I have the feeling to do something concrete, I am active. Whereas I am passive in front of the TV. I love playing Fortnite because I always want to win more, to win new levels, to become stronger. It is a very addictive game.
Jean-Baptiste, 10, Paris, France
I watch media on my phone, laptop and desktop. My favorite type of media is social media because I can talk to my friends on it. The media I watch most is probably YouTube because I can just watch it, or video games on my PC because I can play with my friends.
Oliver, 13, Ottowa, Canada
When my brother is not there, I love playing video games because I can play alone and I still have the feeling to be active. I do appreciate the touch screen.
Mathilde, 9, Paris, France
Definitely Douyin, it’s quick, it’s funny, and it has something for every taste … it is super addictive. I can also upload my own content and instantly it will generate a lot of likes. At the end I learn nothing and it’s all quite useless but I cannot stay away from it …
Tim, 14, Beijing, China
I like Minecraft. Minecraft is like LEGO: I can use my imagination to build my own world, there are no limits. I especially enjoy playing together with my friends. It is fun.
Jarred, 7, Shanghai, China
The status symbol for technology would not be an iPhone, as such. It’s all about the cool apps because in the end it’s about connectivity. If you have Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, then you’re in the cool lingo these days.
Shreya, 17, Dubai, UAE